25th October 2023
Centering your students: writing from their experiences
Sometimes the best way of finding common ground with others is by telling them how we feel. A school magazine, podcast or newspaper can be a forum in the Roman sense: a print or digital ‘town square’ where students are truly heard. It’s a unique opportunity to bring their stories to life.
I recall a winning entry from two years ago by student writer Hilary Hanslin whose piece, “Don’t touch my hair” caused a sensation with the Shine School Media Award judges, winning Best writer for a non-fiction piece.
Here’s a short excerpt’s of Hilary’s article that I felt was particularly powerful;
One day, I walked into school feeling confident about my new cornrow hair that took so long to do. No wild afro, no more hair tugging, but now I just met with more commentary. I was in the playground when my “friend” came up to me and said to my face, “Your hair looks like snakes. You look like medusa.”
That one remark stuck with me through the entire day. The entire month. The entire year. Even now it hurts.
Even though it was hurtful and thoughtless, I am strangely grateful for that person’s carelessness. It made me realise that whatever I chose, no one would be fully satisfied. I realised that I would always get questions and remarks like “Is that afro fake?” or “Do you take your braids out when you sleep?” but I was not going to tell them the lies they wanted to hear. Yes, my afro is made completely of plastic. Yes, I take them out just to put them all in again in the morning.
Hilary’s article comes from a place of pain as well resilience and its authenticity truly resonates. I can’t imagine anyone reading the entirety of the piece not taking a moment to put themselves in her shoes.
Thinking about the cultural breadth of students across the UK that enter Shine every year convinces me that anyone can write about identity. Oral histories set in a broader context mean that the reader can understand the story of the individual and how it matters in society. I’m grateful to Hilary for her amazing piece and hope it inspires another wave of powerful writing. I’d love it if this article proved to be the standard of Shine competition entries for 2024: so why not get inspired and encourage your students to create a magazine, newspaper or online publication telling their stories?
For more information about how to enter Shine, our award categories and the different sorts of project that qualify, either look at the website or contact Anneliese at the office – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Til next time,
Chair of Shine